And here again, students from working-class backgrounds typically came to different conclusions about how to negotiate for help in different environments than did students from middle-class backgrounds, Calarco found. “Middle-class parents were explicitly telling their children to go to the teacher and ask for help, to ‘not take no for an answer,’” she said.
Working-class students were worried about “bothering” the teacher and were easily discouraged from asking questions; they also tended to be more sensitive to the teacher’s moods. “Working-class kids were most comfortable asking for help when the teacher came to their desk and said, ‘You look like you are having trouble, do you need help?’ Sometimes the working-class students working in a pair would ask their partner to go for help rather than going themselves. They tended to ask for help only when many other kids had already gotten their questions answered,” Calarco said. “Unfortunately, that was often the time the teacher was shutting it down because there had been 30 questions already.”
By contrast, middle-class students were more likely to ask repeated questions, and further negotiate for help even if a teacher rejected initial requests. As a result, middle-class students she studied were more likely to get in trouble with teachers for talking out of turn or being disrespectful than were working-class students—but, middle-class students also responded differently to teacher criticism than their working-class peers. “The middle-class students were very aware of the profits [of asking for help] and kind of brushed aside the reprimands; they saw them as joking,” Calarco said. “So, middle-class students see help-seeking [behaviors] as opportunities for reward; working-class students see them as opportunities for reprimand.”
This research highlights one of the many ways in which opportunity gets trapped within particular groups of advantage. Fascinating isn’t it, and really alarming? I see this a lot when I watch parents from different socio-economic groups interacting with their children around the very diverse school that my daughter attends.
This study also reminds me of the way parents from less advantaged groups often come down harder on their children for misbehaviour as a protective measure for their children. But it also makes me think about the ways in which poor parents come under more scrutiny for their parenting behaviour than other parents, and the harsher consequences they endure for making mistakes.
There’s an air of entitlement around parents from upper-middle class backgrounds and I suspect these parents often appear to be more calm and joyful in their parenting. No surprises there. Parenting is not quite as exhausting when you enjoy widespread acceptance and approval for your family. No wonder children from these families see help-seeking as an opportunity for reward rather than reprimand.